Script Development and Feature Film Production by Mark Heidelberger [FILMMAKING MASTERCLASS]
Mark Heidelberger, Producer: The idea here is to help you guys get your pictures made. That’s the name of the game. That’s like the first piece of advice I want to give you is to get the picture made. So you guys are probably thinking like “Duh, Mark? That’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to get the picture made.” When I say that I don’t mean from an outside perspective, I don’t mean to go out and try to raise money. I mean try to get the picture made internally, mentally in your head you have to think “Okay, I’m going to do what I have to do to get the picture made.” You’ve got to get out of your own way. And this is a mistake that I made early on in my career was I had several opportunities where I had a chance to get a picture made and I wanted to do it the way I wanted to do it and I sort of ignored other possible opportunities.
I’ll give you an example because stories are fun. I had this project called HIGH MIDNIGHT many years ago (maybe 15- 16 years ago) that it went into turnaround from Screen Gems and I got ahold of this project. It was about vampires in the Old West and it was before this…there was no hybrid vampires, there was no like 30 days of night vampires in Alaska all these like vampires in this, it was very new. There was maybe John Carpenter’s which had sort of an Old West but it was sort of a fresh concept and it was this sort of cool 1892 New Mexico, this run-down Sheriff teams up with this European vampire hunter who has been tracking these vampires from Europe and they’ve been going across the US and the Old West terrorizing towns.
So this run down, washed up sheriff teams up with this vampire hunter to stop this clan of vampires. This sounds like this is so cool. I’m going to get this made. I want to get this made on a big level and I got the project set up with Anonymous Content. And at that time they had done ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, maybe they were shooting 50 FIRST DATES with Adam Sandler. I think that was all they had done at the time (they’ve done a lot since then). But I was just over the moon “this is great! I’m going to get this picture made on this big level.” And then my executive left and as soon as your executive leaves it’s like a lot of time your project dies.
So I took it back and I said “I’m going to make it myself, that’s fine. I’m going to make it for like 10 million dollars and make it myself.” My partner and I had raised some seed capital and we hired this big casting director Bonnie Timmerman and she helped us get like Vincent D’Onofrio and Elizabeth Hurley attached and Thomas Kretchman and Ted Raimi, a good cast for a genre picture, for a horror picture.
We found this town up in Canada and we were like “Yeah! We’re going to do this.” And year after year I kept going out, chasing the money, chasing the money, switching out actors (Rachael Leigh Cook). We had a lot of actors on it and I still couldn’t get the money together. And the one day the Syfy Channel comes to me and they’re like “We will give you $750,000 to make this movie.” And I’m like “[Scoffs] Bug off!” $750,000? It was literally like, screw you. And they were like “Okay?” Like they didn’t care.
And so years later, what do you think happened? I still hadn’t made the movie and I started thinking. I was like Why couldn’t I get out of my own way? I learned that lesson too late and it’s like just get the picture made. I know a lot of people are like It’s got to have this actress, it’s got to be made on this level. But a lot of times (especially early in your career) if you have that project that’s really close and near and dear to your heart sometimes it’s better to put it in the drawer and then work on something else. If you really have to make it a certain way, go work on something else but get the picture made.
And I could have done it for $750,000. I’m sure I could have made it pretty darn good. So that’s the first thing I wanted to mention to you. Obviously what you’re going to hear tonight is subjective. It’s my experience (I’ve been doing this for 20 years) and not everything is…I made a lot of mistakes so you’re going to learn from some of the mistakes that I made and so that would be my other piece of advice to you guys — go make some mistakes, go fail. I know that sounds weird but go fail a little bit. Go get rejected because it’s going to happen. Get used to it…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).
Film Courage: Off-camera we were talking about you moving to Santa Barbara (UCSB) from the East Coast, you didn’t know anyone. So you have a Bachelor’s in Film Studies and then a Master’s in Motion Picture Producing. What did those degrees prepare you for and in the long run what classes (looking back on it) do you think were missing from the curriculum?
Mark Heidelberger, Producer: Santa Barbara was much more critical studies, not so much production. When I applied out here I was transferring as a junior so there was no time for me to work my way into the film program. I had to get into the film program or…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).